63: The Funeral that Made a Family

63: The Funeral that Made a Family

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery

The Funeral that Made a Family

It is never too late to give up our prejudices.

~Henry David Thoreau

He was the love of her life, but most of his family never knew she existed. They loved one another for more than 50 years, but they never married, never shared a home, never had a child together.

When they met, my grandmother was a pretty, lonely young widow with a toddler daughter (my mom) and he was a handsome, young bachelor who dated widely but had never found “the right one.” From the beginning, they knew they had found something special. They knew they had discovered a lifetime love.

But there was a problem. A big one. She was from a strict Baptist home, and he was from a family of Jewish immigrants from the Old World. Their parents told them that if they married, they would not be their children anymore.

It was agonizing—they loved their families and they loved each other. They were told they had to choose. But how do you rip your heart in half? How do you tell your heart whom to love?

And so they lived more than five decades in a delicate balancing act—loving one another intensely yet never marrying and never living together. We, her family, knew him well. But most of his family never knew of her existence. They thought he was a lonely bachelor all his life. Those who did know never spoke of her.

They had great happiness. He was a gourmet cook who came over every Tuesday and Thursday to create an amazing meal. They were avid about fishing and spent one day every weekend in their boat on the lake. They took amazing trips every summer—they visited all the latest restaurants—they celebrated birthdays and “anniversaries” and holidays. For more than 50 years, they shared their lives and were happy.

But they also had the sadness of never being affirmed as a couple, of never sharing a home, of never sharing events with his family, of never having a child together. It hurt even after decades.

After 50 years of the same happiness and the same sadness, my grandmother passed away. Not long afterwards, her companion of a lifetime died as well.

Somehow, in the midst of his final days, his family learned about the great love of his life. Our two families came together at his funeral. They asked us to sit with them at the service and the burial. (The rabbi was confused but supportive.) Afterwards, we shared a meal. Around those tables, stories abounded. Having never known my grandmother, they had not really known him.

You didn’t know that he loved to fish? Well, they went fishing together every week. Let me tell you about the time she caught the biggest fish. You didn’t know he was a great cook? Well, let me tell you about his terrific spaghetti.

You never heard about their trips? Well, we have these great pictures of them down in Florida.

It was at the lunch that my young daughter Kate met his equally young grand-niece Abigail. They looked at each other curiously—two little girls in the midst of a room full of grown-ups.

They were shy at first. They were not sure how to get started being family with someone they’d never met before.

Then Abigail had an idea. “Would you like to see the doll I got for Hanukkah?” she asked. Kate nodded. The doll came out.

They began to play, quietly at first. Before long they were chasing one another through the room—shouting and laughing. Then they joined hands and started singing “Ring Around the Rosie.” Round and round they twirled—smiling, giggling, and holding hands.

All of a sudden everything got quiet as every adult in the room noticed them. All the aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents—those who had always known and those who had just found out. They all stopped and watched. Then they smiled. Then they laughed. After all those long years of being apart, two families had finally come together, all because of two little girls and a doll.

A decades-long love was finally complete.

Kate and Abigail are friends.

Kate and Abigail are family.

And now we all know.

~LeDayne McLeese Polaski

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